Criticism of Outcome-based Education

Criticism of OBE falls into a few major groups:

    Opposition to standardized testing
    Criticism of inappropriate outcomes
    Lack of evidence that OBE works
    Extra burden on instructors and educational institutions
    Dislike of something that is not OBE

Opposition to testing
Critics claim that existing tests do not adequately measure student mastery of the stated objectives.

Some parents also object to the use of standardized tests (all students take the same test under the same conditions) because they think it unfair for schools to require the same level of work or to use the achievement tests for impoverished or disadvantaged students as they do for more advantaged students.

The OBE philosophy insists that assessment models be carefully matched to the stated objectives. High-stakes tests are not required in an OBE system; norm-referenced tests are prohibited. Portfolios, daily assessments, teacher opinions, and other methods of assessment are perfectly compatible with OBE models. Furthermore, the OBE approach does not permit special, lower standards for students who have been badly served by public education in the past.

Inappropriate outcomes
Many people oppose OBE reforms because they dislike the proposed outcomes. They may think that the standards are too easy, too hard, or wrongly conceived. Finally, some so-called OBE critics oppose non-OBE reforms that were presented as a part of a wide-ranging reform "package", rather than opposing OBE itself.

Standards can be set too low: Most fear that the focus on achievement by all students will result in "dumbing down" the definition of academic competence to a level that is achievable by even the weakest students. Critics are unhappy with having all students meet a minimum standard, instead of most students meeting a somewhat higher standard.

Some critics also question whether even such low goals are realistic or attainable, and whether success can only be framed in terms of high test scores and high incomes. The emphasis on higher reading standards and algebra for all appears to devalue vocational training and the achievement of those who do not get high test scores, but who are likely to become competent blue-collar workers.

Standards can be set too high: Others object that the standards are too high. OBE models do not approve of social promotion, so non-disabled students who perform significantly below the stated standard may be held back or required to take additional instruction. Especially when the standards are relatively new, and the schools are just beginning to adjust to the new standards, a majority of students struggle with at least some of the requirements. Parents are understandably unhappy to learn that their children have not acquired the necessary skills, and occasionally respond by demanding that the standards be lowered until their children are declared to be passing.

Sometimes this demand that the standards be lowered is justified, because standards can be found developmentally inappropriate for all but the brightest students. The State of Washington found that some fourth grade WASL math problems were much more difficult than what is typically expected of nine-year-old students. A 2008 draft mathematics standard proposed that Kindergartners multiply to 30 by skip counting (also known as counting by twos: 2, 4, 6, 8...), and that second graders solve simple algebra story problems.

Committees often set standards without considering how many students are currently achieving at that level. For example, in the 1998 North Carolina Writing Assessment, less than 1 percent of fourth graders received the highest possible score for writing content. While a majority of students passed easily, parents were upset that so few were rated as being best.

Dislike of specific outcomes: Finally, many complaints are directed against the nature of certain standards. For example, a politician might propose that standards be included for education about sex or creationism. Opponents say that many educational agencies have adopted outcomes which focus too much on attitudes (e.g., "Students will enjoy physical education class") rather than academic content. Similarly, the "Who Controls Our Children" campaign in Pennsylvania claimed that an OBE reform effort was part of a federal program that was "stressing values over academic content, and holding students accountable for goals that are so vague and fuzzy they can't be assessed at all." The Western Australian outcomes were criticised for being too vague.

Controversial standards are opposed because of their content, not simply because they are standards. OBE models always leave the choice of the exact standards to the educational authority, so that families can influence the choice of standards according to their community's preferences.

Lack of evidence that OBE actually works
OBE is a loosely-bound collection of ideas, with little uniformity in the way it is implemented from case to case. This makes it difficult to test OBE's effectiveness in a way that applies universally. The vagueness of OBE's conception of a "measurable outcome" is a particular challenge, both in implementing an OBE regime and in testing its effectiveness. In fact, there is little published evidence that OBE actually works.

Extra burden on instructors and educational institutions
Critics sometimes oppose OBE because of the burden it imposes on instructors and educational institutions more broadly, a burden that they regard as unjustified by any evidence showing that OBE actually improves learning outcomes. Rather than issuing a single letter or number to summarize an entire term's achievements, an OBE system may require that the teacher track and report dozens of separate outcomes. It takes longer to report that a student can add, subtract, multiply, divide, solve story problems, and draw graphs than to report "passed mathematics class," but the burden imposed by OBE does not owe primarily to the reporting of more data. The burden is spread across the entire educational institution, in the form of (1) a new layer of assessment placed atop the old familiar one, (2) a new bureaucracy responsible for the institution-wide collection and presentation of data, and (3) the altering and curtailing of classroom instruction to make room for more intrusive testing. In view of the paucity of evidence showing that OBE actually works, many regard this extra burden as an unjustified drain on pedagogical resources.

Dislike of something that is not OBE
Many criticisms of OBE are actually criticisms of other things that are introduced with an OBE system. Many people oppose OBE reforms because the OBE reforms are packaged with other reforms.

OBE reform is often packaged as part of a comprehensive school reform model which promotes constructivism, inquiry-based science, tax reform, teacher training, and more. Other educational reforms, including changes to the school calendar, the age of students that attend school in a certain building, or the way tax revenues are divided, may all be inappropriately labeled "OBE" reforms simply because they were proposed on the same day as an OBE program.

School to work may also be a component of these multi-faceted reform programs. School-to-work programs require students to spend time in an internship or other form of career training or experience.